Ben Wheatley’s newest incredibly dark satire is a no holds barred commentary on the consequences of useless gun violence in films. It holds up much better in comparison to his more nihilistic approach to modernity in High-Rise (2015), instead seeming rather sobering than actively hopeless and futile. Spoilers to follow.
I can’t help but draw comparisons between Free Fire and High-Rise because I definitely enjoyed the former much more despite being infinitely more sceptical. There even came a point in the film where I felt it would go down the same overly cynical route, and I was completely ready to zone out. This film is extraordinarily masculine, and that in itself creates a first obstacle with someone like me, who doesn’t always resonate with that kind of film unless it is obviously poking fun at itself. Thankfully, Free Fire does. It’s very meta as well, taking into account its status as a gratuitous film while actively participating in the brutality that many others perpetuate.
You don’t need me to tell you that this film still subverts violent, misogynistic, empty tropes by propagating them. Whether that’s an effective tool to be subversive in the first place is rightfully up for debate. What I enjoyed most about Free Fire, aside from the wondrously hilarious performances (my favourites are Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, and Armie Hammer), is its ending. It is its final statement that moves the narrative beyond simply repeating the mistakes of other exceedingly murderous, male-centric films. Nobody gets away, even the ones who are held to lesser account. They are still responsible for their actions.
There is also something so satisfying about watching a film with copious amounts of firearms but having no talented shooter in sight. It makes the story – or lack thereof – taxing as it should be. Too many movies bank on tiresome battle scenes and gun sequences, and this film definitely points that out. However, it does this rather clinically, which I suppose genre films are apt to do. But there’s something about Wheatley’s approach that feels too distant for me. It doesn’t relish when its characters are right or wrong, and obviously does not gratify itself or pat itself on the back.
So perhaps films like these will always be a little hit or miss for me, if only because I like to be a little more moved by the films I watch. Very rarely do I see something detached and enjoy it thoroughly even if I can see its artistic value. But at the very least, Free Fire does have that going for it. It’s punchy and rude, genuinely hilarious at times, and a thoroughly proficient satire piece.